As the U.S. transitions to a clean-energy future, employment is one of the biggest concerns faced by communities, individuals, and politicians alike, as various professions are now facing obsolescence — most notably coal miners and coal power plant workers.
However, many industry experts and environmentalists argue that while some jobs may eventually disappear, they will be replaced by a completely new category of green professions. This would mean that former coal workers, for example, could be retrained and put back to work in clean energy jobs such as solar and wind power generation system installation.
While the coal sector has only 53,000 miners nationally, despite President Donald Trump’s promise to “end the war on coal,” green jobs are booming, with approximately 50,000 solar jobs and 15,000 wind jobs being added per year. A report by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Wind Energy Technologies Office predicts that wind has the potential to support more than 600,000 jobs in manufacturing, installation, maintenance, and supporting services by 2050. A report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), meanwhile, found that the number of people employed in the renewable energy sector across the globe could rise to 24 million by 2030.
As with any issue involving job loss, the decline of fossil fuel jobs and the green jobs boom have thus far been emotionally charged and politicized. Facts matter, which is why any new study tracking the growth of jobs in the environmental sector is welcomed. In the “Cognizant Jobs of the Future Index (CJoF Index),” for example, the organization identified 50 “jobs of the future” and has tracked demand for these 50 roles in the U.S. since the third quarter of 2016.
The Green Jobs Boom
Six of the 50 roles tracked by Cognizant are regarded as “environmental” — tidewater architects, alternative energy managers, sustainability specialists, solar engineers, solar installers, and environmental engineers. The data confirms that the industry is experiencing a green jobs boom: the environmental jobs family grew by 63.5% in 12 months, from 1,030 openings in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2017 to 1,680 in Q4 2018.
The biggest jump was recorded for solar engineering jobs at an impressive 257%. Solar installers had surprisingly low growth at 11.7%, although this may be due to the fact that Cognizant filtered out any role that does not involve digital capabilities. Comparably, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that job openings for solar photovoltaic installers will grow by 105% from 2016 to 2026.
Alternative energy managers — experts who recommend the use of certain renewable or alternative energy sources such as solar panels, wind power, and biofuels to help companies reduce energy consumption — are also seeing heightened demand. This profession, which also manages installation, grew by 117.3% in 12 months. Similarly, job openings for sustainability specialists have grown by 96.4% in 12 months as companies seek to hire experts who can reduce their energy costs and promote environmentally friendly practices.
Tidewater architects, meanwhile, are working to save coastal cities around the globe from the threat of rising sea levels driven by climate change and extreme weather events. Cognizant reports that job offerings for this profession have grown by 75.3% in 12 months, with 700 experts sought in the U.S. alone in Q4 2018. Jobs for environmental engineers have also grown by 47%, as companies look for solutions to various environmental challenges including pollution control, waste disposal, and recycling.
Looking Ahead to a Greener Future
The green jobs boom is all the more impressive when assessing the state of the American coal industry. Although the coal mining sector has added over 2,000 jobs since Trump took office, it appears impossible to arrest the sector’s decline: over the past 30 years, U.S. coal mining has shed more than 100,000 jobs.
Declining domestic consumption, fewer export opportunities, increased efficiency through automation, lower renewable energy costs, and Obama-era emissions regulations are all contributing to the fall of coal.
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